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Is America leading the way in IT cyber security?

America is not just worried about physical dangers of terrorism but, following a cyber attack on the Pentagon in March, also the threat of internet hackers to national security.

The incident in March, recently disclosed by the US Department of Defense, exposed 24,000 department files. While this was dismissed as 'mundane' by the officials because of the non-sensitive information in question, it clearly shows that the US government needs to take cyber threats ever more seriously.

Just two months later, the White House proposed legislation to protect the nation from cyber attacks from hackers and criminals. The government plans to offer incentives to companies which run sensitive infrastructures so that they make sure their systems are secure.

US officials claim that attacks on computer systems in the country are rife and that they would be prepared to empower the department of homeland security to step in and help develop security systems for such institutions if it was felt the companies didn't have adequate security in place.

The White House hasn't excluded its own system from coming under scrutiny. In addition to making sure the biggest and most sensitive firms across the country have their affairs in check, the administration is also keen to ensure its own practices are up to date.

A whole range of proposals have been outlined to increase cyber security at the White House. The proposals include plans to replace equipment every 12 to 36 months rather than doing so every seven to eight years. Officials also plan to replace equipment in small, gradual segments instead of making one large purchase as well as doubling the number of internet security experts.

Jason Epstein, lawyer and expert on cyber security, told ABC news that the proposals were both feasible and necessary.

"The way criminals or people with malicious intent who try to attack are going to be changing over time and the government and the vendors to the government are going to need to continue to stay vigilant to try to stay ahead," said Epstein.

The advancements that are being made in the White House's cyber security plans are only further highlighting the lack of similar steps forward at Downing Street. MPs in the UK have criticised the government for the lack of a clear, communications strategy for cyber security plans.

Ambitious plans were set out by the government in March as part of the IT and communications strategy but MPs have voiced concerns in a public accounts committee report that the plans needed further clarity. Specifically the report questioned further how cyber security will be merged into the government's IT strategy and also called on the government to reveal how many cyber security experts were working for it.

It also pointed out that the American government had recently admitted it needs to "double its capability to meet a shortfall in skills" for the country's IT sector.

A plan is expected by the Cabinet Office next month, but the committee warned that to be able to deliver the strategy they would need backing from all ministers across government.

"The strategy only makes one reference to cyber-security. This is particularly concerning given the move to more government services online," the report states.

So, it seems as though the Americans are leading the way in terms of cyber security and that the UK could do a lot worse than follow their example. That said, as with the UK, it's not all rosy across the Atlantic either. There have been criticisms there too concerning a lack of strength and urgency in the proposals as well as businesses calling for it to be voluntary rather than coming from a government mandate.

We'll have to wait for the finalised systems and the following results from them to see whether the US and UK have got cyber security right or not.